It’s come to this: The chief project to restate Democratic economics for our time was unveiled a couple of weeks ago, and it’s named after the father of American conservatism, Alexander Hamilton. ~Harold Meyerson, The Washington Post

Before Mr. Meyerson gets himself tangled up in too many knots at the betrayal of Democrats going all wobbly on the question of the Bank of the United States (I do believe old Woodrow threw in the towel on that one, to the chagrin of all republicans, constitutionalists, sound-money men and silverites alike), a minor correction: whatever Alexander Hamilton was, and whatever he may have happened to get right in his career, he was not the father of American conservatism. For starters, no conservative of note I know of has ever claimed him as such. Second, it makes no sense. (Then again, neither does the Democrats’ so-called “Hamilton Project,” which involves resurrecting the corpse of the DLC’s economic agenda complete with Bob Rubin as financial guru–it is the New Democrats, not the old Hamiltonians, who really bother Mr. Meyerson.)

Hamilton did ably defend the Constitution, but in doing so he showed his allegiance to the forces of political centralisation and consolidation and otherwise was notable for seeking to create a sort of aristocracy of wealth to which he, a parvenu from the Caribbean, assuredly aspired to belong. Most serious conservatives, especially Southern conservatives, may be willing today to entertain Hamiltonian-style tariffs for a host of economic and political reasons, but their affinity for the man and his ideas ends there.

This idea of Hamilton-as-conservative is the flip side of the myth that the Jeffersonians are the philosophical ancestors of modern liberals, who repudiate at least 90% of what Jefferson believed about limited government, republicanism and state sovereignty (among other things). Hamilton was from the tawdry side of the Federalists, the sort of grasping person who fit Jefferson’s stereotype of the servant of the “moneyed interest” all too well, and the genuinely more conservative and agrarian party in American politics did not become reconciled to the idea of any kind of Bank associated with the federal government. Unless serving the “moneyed interest” and corrupting the Republic through empowering that interest are “conservative” traits (and, alas, some of the adherents of the modern conservative movement would give many people that impression), Hamilton was not any kind of conservative I would recognise. But this mythology of Hamilton-the-conservative suits the GOP just fine, as it can pretend that the party of consolidation, “internal improvements,” industry and internal empire has always been the conservative party.